Pre-Columbian Mexico saw the skull as a symbol of life - not death.
Death is when our bodies cease to function; when our hearts no longer beat of their own accord, when our gaze no longer has depth or weight, when the space we occupy slowly loses its meaning.
The second death comes when the body is lowered into the ground, returned to mother earth, out of sight.
The third death, the most definitive death, is when there is no one left alive to remember us."
While most altars are laden with the favorite foods, sweets, drinks, and harvest fruits of each family spirit, even the most basic altar includes these basic needs:
* WATER to quench the thirst and for purification
* SALT to season the food and for purification
* BREAD to represent the food needed for survival
The altar is prepared in a place of honor in the home, using empty boxes on a table to form a pyramid of three or more levels, then a white tablecloth covers it all.
Four candles are placed on the top level to represent the four elements. One for
each family member, and one extra so that no one is left out. The candles, burn all night.
Copal is burned as incense since the time of the Aztecs as an offering to the gods.
Colorful tissue paper, papel picado, is cut into designs and strung to flutter over around the altar. This custom comes from the Aztecs who used paper banners in rituals.
In addition you can observe the following items, representing indigenous and synergetic symbols in many cultures such as:
* The Feather of the Rooster: Represents the dawning of a new day.
* A Black Dog: Represents the guide accompanying the passenger / soul to another life.
* Frog: Represents the twilight of another day.
* Money: Represents generosity and wealth as well as the fare to be paid for the crossing from the underworld.
* Mirrors: Represent the duality of existence.
* Photographs or posters of people: Represent Love and a way to remember and to learn from the virtues and abilities of the people represented there.
* Purple candles: to represent the sorrow for having lost a beloved one. They should be placed in the four cardinal points, to help the visitor to find its way.
* Sugar skulls in various sizes:
Three small skulls that represent the Holly Trinity are placed at the lower level of the altar.
Two medium skulls represent the always present death.
A large skull on the higher level of the altar represents the eternal Father.
* A water bowl, soap and towel, in the case the deceased needs to clean up after the long journey.